The Great West Electrification Project (GWEP) is a Network Rail initiative, which introduced electrification infrastructure and modern electric trains to the Great Western Mainline route.
The route stretches from Maidenhead in West London, to Cardiff in South Wales and interfaces with the Crossrail project at Maidenhead.
The project commenced in March 2014 and we, along with ABB, undertook the detailed design, procurement, construction and installation, system integration, testing and commissioning, and handover of 27 trackside substations, 111 track sectioning cabinets providing supply and control to more than 500 motorised switches, 90 kilometres of high voltage cabling and 250 kilometres of low voltage cabling and the associated SCADA and communication control systems.
Underpinning the entire project was a tight timeline – only five years from the signing of contracts to completion. This needed to be well managed given the complications that can arise when collaborating with multiple project partners. This tight timeline was tested when a re-evaluation of the scope of GWEP and the National SCADA Renewals Programme was conducted in the middle of the project implementation.
Despite the many challenges encountered on such a major project with multiple stakeholders, we met the requirements of the project and successfully supported Network Rail in meeting their revised energisation milestones.
Our work on GWEP enabled us to showcase our focus on innovation, and this was realised through the implementation of two ground-breaking initiatives: the Rationalised Autotransformer System and use of polyfibre-reinforced concrete.
The Rationalised Autotransformer System is a state of the art advanced protection system, which reduces the number of circuit breakers and other equipment whilst maintaining safe operation of the line. A collaboration between us, ABB, Siemens and Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, this world first will deliver cost savings in the procurement, installation, and maintenance of an autotransformer electrification system and better reliability compared to other systems installed in the UK. The innovation was recognised at the National Rail Awards 2018 as Innovation of the Year.
The other innovation on the project was the use of polyfibre in place of traditional steel reinforcement for construction of load bearing concrete structures. The fibre was added to the concrete at source, so it was not necessary to construct the steel frames on site, thus avoiding several safety hazards and environmental risks.
This product eliminated both manual handling and working from height on site, instantly lowering the risk of injury. The environmental benefits included a 42 tonne reduction of reinforcing steel going to site and reduction of embodied carbon by 18,000kg CO2 equivalent. The initiative won Network Rail’s Sustainable Construction Award and was shortlisted for the Environment and Sustainability categories at the Utility Week Awards 2017 and UK Rail Infrastructure Awards 2018, two categories at the Rail Partnership Awards 2018 as well as the Health and Safety Initiative category in the Network Awards 2020.
Delivery and outcome
The electrification of the rail network sets up the Great Western Railway for the future of train travel in the region, providing a modern environmentally friendly transport connections for towns and cities across the South West of England and South Wales.
We delivered our work on time and on budget with the overall project now completed.
We are extremely proud that since the project launched in March 2014, we have achieved more than one million hours without a single lost time injury, nor have we caused any delays to the operational railway.
The end-to-end delivery of the power and distribution network was carried out in partnership with ABB, and contribution from Siemens.